There’s a happy update to the story of the stolen Prijon kayak and Motobecane bike! 

See the latest report in The Hawk Eye  “River Journey Takes Positive Turn as Residents Reach Out”

But for the kindness of strangers. 

And the journey continues!

Oh no —-  the trusty Prijon kayak and the Motobecane are gone!!   Eve reports that BOTH are missing, since yesterday.  Missing: one red expedition kayakThey disappeared near Ft Madison,  Iowa.  The incident is being covered by local press and bloggers, and police are investigating, in the hope that both will turn up and be found soon. You can see Eve’s full account in her blog.   Here’s an excerpt:

Sept 29-  “When we went out to Green Bay landing this morning, the kayak was gone. Simply gone, no trace. The last time I saw it was Sunday around noon, when I was about to paddle down to Ortho landing where the bike was locked up. The wind was too strong, so I decided not to paddle, and I thought it was a bad idea to try to put the kayak back up on the car, partially because I was alone, partially because I needed to drive up to the Quad Cities to pick up Rafaela at the airport Monday and the wind was strong enough that highway driving with the kayak seemed dangerous. I had already left the kayak there overnight with no trouble, so I thought it would be okay.

I was wrong, obviously. Totally wrong.

We called the Lee County sheriff and he came out and took a report. I talked to Mike, a local farmer, whose friend owns some of the hunting camps just upriver and they both promised to ask around.

But there’s more.

We drive down to the Ortho landing ten miles downriver, where I had parked and locked my bike with a big NYC-type chain. And, I bet you can guess, the bike was gone, too. Simply gone, no trace. Not even the presumably broken lock. There was a woman there who comes out every day on her lunch hour who had seen it yesterday, which means the bike was stolen between 1 pm Monday and noon Tuesday.” 

Send Eve some good karma and connect her to any information that could be helpful.  The journey continues!

The Empire Builder train runs from Seattle and Portland, clear through to my immediate destination, Chicago, and it stops at.. Winona!  I knew there’d be a way to get from wherever I ended up on the Mississippi to Chicago, but this is undreamed of.   So I made a reservation last night,

First view, early morning

First view, early morning

had a last look at the trees from our tent this morning, packed up my things and said goodbye to Eve and Mac.  Thank you both, for coaching me and sharing with me such a fabulous experience!  Back to the world of cities and schedules..and showers.  

I’m looking forward to being with my family in Chicago for a few days, before heading back to NY.  And to getting there by train.  This will make it easier to say goodbye to the River Project.  I wait for the train in the warm September sun, outside the lovely old train station.  

Winona train station

Winona train station

 The train is  running late, so I talk with a fellow traveler from Winona.  He’s from Beijing, of all places, which he pronounces “Peijing”.  He’s young, speaks very little English, so I wonder what brings him to Winona, and where he’s going in America.  He’s headed to Chicago, where he’ll work as a cook.  I’d love to know more, but my Mandarin is even less than his English.   The Amish families, having left their horse-drawn buggies, are also waiting for The Empire Builder.  And several other, more mainstream looking folks.   We’re a motley crew, waiting at the Winona station.  When the train arrives, yet more Amish families descend at Winona.   I go onboard, glad to be travelling by rail instead of by bus.  There’s a dining car!  When it opens, I’m shown to a seat opposite a couple and I offer to be Cary Grant to their Eve Marie Saint.  They oblige.  They’ve come all the way from Seattle; are headed back home, to Vermont.  They recommend the trip, especially Glacier National Park, retracing steps made by Lewis & Clark.   I’m glad for lunch.

We travel along the Mississippi for a long time.  Time for last looks, time to think over this adventure.  What sweat and muscle could do so slowly, the rail powers by at full tilt. 

Last look: the Mississippi seen by train

Last look: the Mississippi seen by train

Hardly even time to get a decent photo as we whizz by!  I feel I’ve emerged from another time, before the Iron Horse.  Somewhere down there, Mac is paddling.

We cross over to Wisconsin at LaCrosse.  More rivers, wooded hills, gorgeous rolling country.  I talk with a fellow traveller, who’s based in a tiny Wisconsin town.  She’s a biologist from San Diego.  What brings her to that tiny Wisconsin town?  She works for the International Crane Foundation, in collaboration with Operation Migration.  She tracks cranes in their migrations to Florida.   I’m thrilled; I’ve just read about this amazing bid to bring these whooping cranes back from near extinction.  Unbelieveable work!  Jess is also headed to Chicago, on a break from the world of cranes.  After a while, I wake from a nap in the sun.  I’ve missed Madison and I really wanted to see it.  I’m starting to realize that I’m tired!

We roll into Chicago Union Station, an hour late.  Rush hour for the Mississippi kayaker!  I battle up the stairs, lugging my bags, against the stream of workers eager to get to their homes on this beautiful evening. 

Rush hour, Chicago Madison Avenue

Rush hour, Chicago Madison Avenue

I love arriving in Chicago by rail, just as I did so long ago, a little kid on the Super Chief, returning from her first big trip, to California. 

Over to the Metra station; with any luck I can still join my mother for dinner at her residence in Evanston.   I’m looking forward to dinner!

Evanston: Lake Michigan south to Chicago

Evanston: Lake Michigan south to Chicago

Winona to Dakota:   17 miles, including my first passage through a Lock.   I can do this.  Mac and Eve assure me that locks are easier than they look.  Just wait your turn, proceed with caution and look alive.  I’m ready for anything, especially powerboaters who bend the rules.  I have the maps; I’ll figure it out when I get there.   Back to my improv days.  General Eisenhower had it right, “Plans are useless; planning is everything”. 

Shoving off in the morning fog again, time to be alone with the River.  Aside from my sole kayak, only a small fishing skiff,  buddies together, silent in the mist, hopeful lines out.  Not a word spoken, just a nod as I glide by.  And 2 muskrats!  Very shy, on the riverbank, just a glance; now they’re gone.   Approaching a grainary, loading grain into barges in the water. 

Chiaroscurro

Chiaroscurro

Even this is muffled in the fog.   I love these  industrial forms, emerging from the mists.  One barge is labelled “New York NY”. 

Destination New York, NY

Destination New York, NY

Maybe connecting to the Great Lakes through the Illinois River?  Think on this, when I’m back in NYC, with my bowl of cereal! 

A little further on… a beautiful winter scene?!  No, it’s detergent suds, spewing into the River from a massive pipe on a “Private, No Trespassing” riverbank.  The first and only outrageous pollution I’ve seen.  

Detergent suds enter the Great River

Detergent suds enter the Great River

As the fog lifts, I need to make a decision:  stay on the main channel side of the river, or steer over to the left of a long island, which will put me in sight of Lock and Dam #6.  I decide to cross over the main traffic channel and go to the left, so I can observe the Lock long before I approach it.   So here I am, long past the fork in the road, battling a good strong head wind that makes this a lot more work than anticipated.  If I’d stayed in the main channel, which winds around, I’d be better off.  So much for careful calculations!  Just.. keep… go..ing.  A looong time later, I approach the Lock.  No other boats waiting to go in; I can just barely see the red light ahead, so the Lock is in operation now, and boats will be coming out soon.  But it looks as though there are 2 sides to the Lock!  Not sure where I need to be, I cheat a bit and call Mac on my iPhone.  Oh happy day. Mac is standing by, ready to tell me exactly where the call chord can be found.  

Lock & Dam #6, waiting for green light

Lock & Dam #6, waiting for green light

I pull the chord, letting the gatekeeper know I’m here.  I hear loud speaker announcements, but it’s all garbled by the time the sound reaches me, way down in the kayak.  I decide it’s not essential to know what they’re saying.   At last the enormous gates open and a single power boat emerges, safely far from me.  Green light, so I move ahead.  Now I can hear a real person overhead (no loud speaker).  He’s very friendly and lets me know that I’ll be alone in the Lock; just hold on to the rope he throws down and know that as I emerge, a tug and barge will be moving in!  He’s letting them know too, so they’ll watch for me.  OK.  The gates close behind me in this gigantic lock, built for barges just as big.  The water descends silently, easily, rapidly, about 12 feet, just for me and my kayak.  So smooth, so fast, easy as pie.  As the gargantuan gates open to release me, there it is:  the giant barge, that begins to enter, and on my side!  I scoot– fast– over to the right, this wonderful kayak like a trusty steed.  As I exit the Lock, I see men stationed at the front of the barge, to see into the famous blind spot where the  tug boat captain cannot see.  One of them shouts to me that he’d never have the nerve to kayak on the River.  I’d never have the nerve to drive a barge on the River!  The precision is incredible.  They have about 1/8 inch to maneuver, and there’s not so much as a scratch, going into the Lock.  Steady as she goes, slow and easy. 

Barge entering Lock & Dam #6

Barge entering Lock & Dam #6

I’ve had my official baptism:  I made it through the Lock.  Still a long way to go to Dakota and no more water to drink, in this world of water.  I go to the Trempealeau Landing, confident that I’ll find water there.  But I’m dead wrong.  No public water source here.  I ask around.  A service man making deliveries offers me a bottle of water from his truck.  But for the goodness of strangers!  Back to the River, for the final stretch.  I don’t want this to be the final stretch.  Life is good on the Mississippi.  Rolling green hills and limestone bluffs on either side; wild, uninhabited islands everywhere, warm sun, water lapping at the kayak, paddle dip and over, dip and over, dip and over.  When the wind picks up, and it always does, sit up tall like a brave and just keep going.  A marker says it’s 722 miles to Cairo, IL, where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi.  All the markers refer to that; it must be a profound change in the River:  much wider, much busier.  I keep going, slowed by the wind, as the light begins to fade.  It would be very good to get to Dakota before dark.  When I finally pull in, Mac is waiting, with good news:  we’re invited to dinner in a real house tonight.  David, our singer/musician friend from Winona and his wife Susan are having us for dinner. 

Eve, Mac, David, listening to David's music

Eve, Mac, David, listening to David's music

Then David invites us up to his attic music studio.  What a splendid last evening with the River team! 

 

 

David, Eve, Mac (back), Susan, Hudson

David, Eve, Mac (back), Susan, Hudson

Awoke to a very misty Krugel Camping Ground.  Hot tea never tasted so good. 

Camp Krugel breakfast: Mac & Eve

Camp Krugel breakfast: Mac & Eve

Summer is really over; we’re now in Indian summer, with chilly nights, foggy mornings and bright, sunny afternoons.  I finally learned what the screeching creature is, in the middle of the night: it’s heron!  I biked down from the campground in the mists

Biking in the early Mist

Biking in the early Mist

 while Mac helped Eve set off in the kayak today.  Then Mac and I headed to Winona to scout tonight’s campsite.  Thanks to David, musician and local resident, we discover a lovely, secluded camping sauvage on the slough (pron. “sloo”; tributary of the Mississippi).  We’re thrilled with our find

Mac camping on the slough

Mac camping on the slough

, assuming we’re not devoured by mosquitoes tonight.  Tomorrow I need to be in form.  It’s my last day on this expedition, my last chance to kayak down the Mississippi!

Saturday Eve and I wandered into a fabulous Wabasha independent bookshop devoted to local Minnesota/Mississippi history, The Book Cliffscleverly named after the Book Cliffs that stretch for 200 miles between Colorado and Utah.  The owner-manager is Nancy, an anthropologist by training whose heritage is part Ojibwe.  In addition to some great books, she introduced us to her gospel music choir, The Travelin’ Shoes.  We attended a practice session and were blown away by the quality of the performance and original arrangements.  They’ll be performing soon in Menomonee Falls WI at the Lutheran Church; see the link to the left for more about them.  Thanks to Nancy, we also visited the turtle migration route

Turtle Crossing

Turtle Crossing

outside of Wabasha and actually saw some migrating turtles!  

Find the Turtle

Find the Turtle

Wabasha is a great town, named for the lineage of 3 Wabasha Dakota chieftains.  A local poster quotes George Featherstonhaugh in 1835, commenting on his meeting with Wapasha II: ”dressed in a red coloured garment, he acted and spoke like a person still conscious of possessing some authority“.  But it was disappearing fast, as the whites moved in.  “They had no name for Mississippi, only Wamacrhpodah Tanka, ”Great River“.

Sunday we attended a prayer service at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church, celebrating its 150th this year.  Admiring the magnificent Tiffany stained glass,

Tiffany window, Grace Memorial Church

Tiffany window, Grace Memorial Church

we were amazed when the acolyte read a sermon by a NY friend and former assistant rector of Ascension Church in NY, J. Barrington Bates!   Today Sunday Sept 6 an incredible article by Kathryn Shattuck was published in the New York Times Arts section, reporting on Eve’s Mississippi enterprise!  Eve, Mac and I later enjoyed a rare restaurant meal, complete with wine and beer, at the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin, WI.  3 stars!

Today’s my first solo kayaking day!  We wake again in the fog, a magical look in the woods. 

Frontenac camp in early mist

Frontenac camp in early mist

8:30 Mac takes me down to Lake City Landing.  It’s even foggier here.  But I’ll be running close to shore, and the power boats won’t be out in the fog.  So it’s just me and the ducks and a few fishermen on the mighty Mississippi, silent in the fog. 

On the edge of the world: ducks & me, on the River

On the edge of the world: ducks & me, on the River

Gray water into gray mist, everywhere I turn. 

I glide silently by, in the steady rythm of the paddle.  Glad to be somewhat visible, wearing white sleeves and paddling with yellow tips.  And so it continues, paddling in a suspended, alternate world. 

Into thin air

Into thin air

I’m looking for Maple Spring, the only public landing between Lake City and Wabasha.  It’s a place to take a break and assess whether I can make it to Wabasha.  At 13 miles it’s the longest run I’ve undertaken.  But a mile south of Maple Spring, I realize I’ve glided right past it in the fog, without a clue.   So on to Plan B: try my luck at a private landing a mile further down.  I see a ramp, this has to be it.  A lone fisher on the pier; his tiny dog makes a ruckus as I pull in.  I must look dangerous in my puffy life vest and long red kayak.  It’s a makeshift camp for RVs, with a pleasant tiny marina for small craft on the other side.  I break for water, walnuts and dates and some stretches.  The fog has lifted. 

On a clear day

On a clear day

I’m pushing on to Wah-ba-sha.  Where the Chippewa River flows into the Mississippi on the Wisconsin side, an amazing wildlife refuge begins, continuing 260 miles to Rock Island, IL.  Something makes me look up, beyond my baseball cap beak, to see my first bald eagle.  And then two more.  They love this spot, that never freezes over, rich in fish in all seasons.  On the Minnesota side, long Drury Island separates the River from shallow tributaries.  They could be difficult or impossible for a kayak to pass through, but curiosity wins the day, and I turn off the River onto the right side of Drury Island, hoping to see more wildlife in this secluded area where no boats pass.  And then the water turns so shallow I’m hitting bottom and the watery weeds bring me to a dead stop. 

Weeds & algae = dead stop

Weeds & algae = dead stop

So I backtrack back into the River.  The Wabasha Bridge is now in sight, so I pull close to a quiet sandy spot on the shore to text Mac that I’m arriving soon.  Then it occurs to me that this is not a good plan if power boat waves break onto the island.  No sooner said than done, a boat passes and waves come rolling over the boat, soaking through the kayak’s skirt.  Quick dry shorts are definitely the way to go.  Wabasha was a port of call for the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen before they ceased service (last year?).  It’s a fine old town, surprisingly sophisticated.

Wabasha

Wabasha

  I meet Eve and Mac; we wander over to the Flour Mill Pizzeria, with WiFi and beautiful river terrace and enjoy our first dinner “out” since my arrival.  The adjoining chocolate shop has gourmet French chocolates; a few doors down, collector’s vintage kimonos, just the thing for river expeditions.  Then high up to the new Krugel camp sight.  I bed down for the first time in the hammock.  Once I get the *@!*#? liner to lay straight instead of diagonally, I relish the view of the moonlit treetops, deep in the woods.  Shades of the Dakota glide by.

We wake to an enveloping mist,

Deep in the Woods

Deep in the Woods

 deep in the fragrant woods of Frontenac State Park.  Today Eve will kayak, Mac will bike.  I’m in the service car, ready to aid and abet.  Time to jot down notes and think over all I’ve seen and done.  Warm September sun, cool air, slight breeze at our camp picnic table.  Nancy and Mike, fellow campers who took our photo last night, stop by to say hello and wish us good travels.  They’re from a suburb of Minneapolis and are regulars at these fabulous camp sights.  They tell me of a rafter they met once on the Mississippi not far from here.  He’d built himself a raft of logs on oil drums.  With a chair and umbrella and a small motor, he was headed to New Orleans.  He’d managed to run down a small dam but had damaged the propellor on his motor.  So he was looking for a repair shop and a dog to keep him company.  Dear Rafter, if you’re reading this, please tell us how it all turned out.

Top of the hill at last

Top of the hill at last

Today is my turn to bike.   Starting from just south of Hastings, on the Ravenna Trail, destination Red Wing.  Blue skies, bright sun, cool breeze.  The map shows some backroads and trails; will take those whenever I can.  First sight out:  a flock of wild turkeys, on full display in an open field.  But they see me fishing in my bag for something, and are smart enough not to wait around and find out what what I pull out of my sack.  So no photo.  Onward on the Ravenna Trail, which is really a paved road, beautiful fields and horse farms on rolling hills that my legs are clearly not ready for.  Feel the burn!  I have to cheat a bit and walk up the last hill, but who’s to know?  Turn on to 200th St E over the Vermillion River and on to County 18.  This is a straight shot along the railroad, and I wish I’d found a more interesting road.  Guesss I’m just the type who doesn’t like the straight and narrow.  At least it will be easy; a long flat run.  But I didn’t count on the wind.  It really kicks up, and keeps up, making every pedal push an act of will.  A few glimpses of the Mississippi through the trees, just rolling along, in its own good time, effortlessly.  County 18 eventually turns into Rte 61, which I know I don’t want; there’s already too much traffic.  Lucky day:  Mt. Carmel road on the left, a dusty gravel yellow road, a beautiful sight.  Turning on to it, I’m instantly in a different world.  Family farms, waves of corn, no one in sight but a distant tractor on its rounds.  A turn in the road and I realize it’s midday and I need a break.  Miraculously Mt Carmel Cemetary appears around the bend, cool, green and shady. 

Follow the yellow brick road

Follow the yellow brick road

R&R: water, walnuts and dates never tasted so good.  I look at the few tombstones in this lovely silent sanctuary up on a hill, overlooking the fields.  The Johnson family plot.  Sarah Johnson born 1840 died 1928.  88 years old, just about my mother’s age now.  Suddenly I have a real sense of the 80 year olds my mother might have known when she was a child.  I think of her generation, born in the 20th century, as very modern.  How did she see her grandparent’s generation?  Born before the Civil War, in the age of pioneers, that generation settled this land, built these towns.  What a revolution they made.  Back on the yellow brick road.  I turn down Cutler Hill Road, into a steep sylvan glade, tucked away where no one will find it.  Then on to Collischan Rd and then what appears to be a dead end.  It’s the remains of Cannon Valley Trail, a wonderful old abandoned railway grade, now a path,

Cannon Valley Trail- abandoned rail grade

Cannon Valley Trail- abandoned rail grade

through the woods, the Cannon River (transmogrified from Riviere aux Canots!) gliding by in the sun.  Trusting in the wisdom of one of the locals, I roll over two old bridges, built long ago and forgotten. 

Abandoned bridge, Cannon Valley Trail

Abandoned bridge, Cannon Valley Trail

Final leg is the Red Wing bike trail, where I discover many things:  the Anderson Artist’s Sanctuary and Sculpture Park, on the former estate of Alexander Anderson, the man who made his fortune on puffed wheat and puffed rice.  Then to the site of Ft. Pearson, on a bluff over a bend in the Mississippi.  Only the River remains.  An empty field where the fort once stood.  Across the bike path, a trail leading to Indian Mounds, thought to be over 1000 yrs old, and the seat of local chieftains.   There must have been a trading sight nearby, the early stage of Red Wing.  On to Red Wing, a charming old river town, named for Dakota Chief Ta-tan-ka-man (Wild Buffalo) aka Koo-poo-hoo-sha (Red Wing).  I find Eve and Mac comfortably settled in at the Blue Moon Cafe, a kind of espresso bar/old general store, where folks set a while on the vintage chairs and tables, and you can buy your table and chair if you like; they’ve all seen some other life and have stories to tell. 

Blue Moon Cafe, Red Wing: Eve & Mac

Blue Moon Cafe, Red Wing: Eve & Mac

I learn that Mac was also battling the wind in the kayak today.  We head to Frontenac State Park camping grounds, high on a bluff over the River.  A magnificent sight for weary legs and the end of a wonderful day.

Mississippi at Frontenac: Mac, Mary Kay, Eve

Mississippi at Frontenac: Mac, Mary Kay, Eve

Today I set off in one kayak, Eve in the other, from Upper Gray Cloud, headed for Spring Lake Landing, about a 10 mi run.  This is my first big day.  The weather is holding: bright skies, perfect world.  Started out on the narrow channel that runs along the river, enjoying the limestone bluffs. 
Eve leads the way

Eve leads the way

Then into the broad Mississippi, where the heron appear, here and there.  In my next incarnation, I want to be a heron.  It’s a good life, on the Mississippi.  I understand why the fur trappers never went back to city life!  Stopped off on one of the many wooded islands, following Huck Finn’s lead.  Everywhere I look, the land is wooded and undisturbed.  So glad to be a part of it.  We leave the main channel, taking a short cut impossible for larger boats.  Then back into the main stream.  Saw my first major barge on the river, close up.  Definitely give them wide berth.  And they have a blind spot in front.  Coming into the last stretch in Spring Lake, huge flocks of pelicans.  Then I see a heron, seeming to walk on water, and I realize we are in very, very shallow waters.  We’ll have to find our way with care.  Suddenly the wind picks up, making fierce competition against reaching the Landing.  Using all my force to make very small progress.  Just keep on keeping on.  After far too long of this, we finally make land.  Hallelujah!

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